Thursday, November 12, 2009

21st Century Assessment

I read an article on Internet use in exams on the BBC news site with interest. It begins:
"In Denmark, the government has taken the bold step of allowing pupils full access to the internet during their final school year exams."
Now that's eAssessment! For some time pupils in Denmark have been able to choose whether to handwrite answers or type them on a computer. I suppose it could be argued that this is just a logical extension. The article says that on the morning of the exam, the students are helped to set up "their laptops". It is not clear whether they are the student's own laptops or if it just means the laptops they will use. The opportunity to use your own machine, with the software etc. set up just the way you like it would be an interesting.

Clearly, allowing Internet access changes the nature of what you assess. For example, the article notes, "The teachers also think the nature of the questions make it harder to cheat in exams. Students are no longer required to regurgitate facts and figures. Instead the emphasis is on their ability to sift through and analyse information ."

There is a Have Your Say page linked to this article and the responses are fairly polarised. I find the number of people posting comments such as, "An even better way to ensure success would be to give them the examination answers already, that way nobody has to fail and feel upset." slightly depressing. Is that really what people think is happening or is it trolls at work? In the response page there is a clear school of thought that believes memorising and recalling facts is the only thing that assessment can do and that any deviation from that undermines and devalues examinations. And why is there an assumption that changing what is assessed and how it is assessed is about dumbing down? Analysis and synthesis are much higher order skills than factual recall.

What are your thoughts? Good thing? Bad thing? What kind of change would that bring to the kinds of exams we set and the way we teach if a system like that was introduced here?


Neil said...

Memorising facts is pointless - you can look them all up (unless you have been posted to the Arctic Circle without a satphone, buried in a deep cave or surviving a nuclear winter).

OK, I'm bad on facts - that's why I hate history - but I'm good on analysis. I'm glad I have some basic facts, otherwise I'd be shot to bits, but most of the ones I know are those that I've learnt through constant use in work rather than because they were drummed into me at school.

Sadly response to educational development has become more reactionary over the last few year - not least because of our counter-risk culture.

I am not of the "give 'em all a computer and they get so engaged they'll learn it all themselves" school. I think young people do need to be *taught* as well as to learn on their own initiative.

That said, exams need to change such that we measure a meaningful set of skills relevant to the 21st century (and then 22nd for some of our kids).

Mosher said...

I think recall exams are rubbish but that's because I'm awful at them. And also because I think they're unrealistic. After all, if you work in an office or a lab or wherever and you're not sure of something then you *look it up*. Surely exams - education on the whole - should be preparing students for real life beyond the school walls?

One thing nobody's picked up on is that exams will still have a time limit so to some extent they *will* still have to know the answers to at least some of the questions. If they have to Google everything, by the time they sift the information they'll be on question 3 out of 7 when the bell goes.

Another thing not made clear is whether cut'n'pasted answers would count. I still think being able to aggregate data and produce a response in your own words is a hugely valuable skill.

Using computers in exams is a natural progression, but it has to be done right. Of course, I trust the Danes to give it a good run. I'd not let the muppets in the upper echelons of our educational system loose on a ZX-81, frankly.

David said...

Hello Neil

'...I am not of the "give 'em all a computer and they get so engaged they'll learn it all themselves"'

It's the old saying - if you only have a hammer, everything starts to look like a nail - sometimes I can get carried away with the technology and perhaps misuse it but I thought this was an interesting use of technology and one that changes what we assess in a way that seems appropriate.

Hello Mr Mosher

I think you are right. Candidates who are poorly prepared will waste more time faffing about on Google instead of typing answers - you still need to know what too look for and how to evaluate it once you've found it.

However, I think you are very wrong with your final comment. How dare you insult the muppets like that. :-) And so close to their birthday too! (See Elmo After Hours....)

David said...

Now that's interesting. A spam comment but one that I'm going to leave because it illustrates exactly what people are worried about with eAssessment.

I don't recommend you go to the site but the bit I liked best was that it claims to have a "100% no plagiarism guarantee". Given that a basic definition of plagiarism is passing off someone else's work as your own, it s difficult to see how an essay written for you by someone else can be anything but plagiarism!

So, does the existence of sites such as this mean that the whole idea of allowing Internet access during exams is deeply flawed?

What do you think?

David said...

Decided to remove the spam comment after all when two more were posted. :-(

David said...

Lesson learned! Never leave a spam comment un-deleted. That's another two spam comments I've just had to remove from this post. :-(

Mosher said...

I'm getting many the same on my blogs at the moment. Fortunately, WordPress has a nice anti-spam plug-in which is *fairly* accurate. Worth a check to see if Blogger offers you the same possibility?

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